Thomas Pynchon Offers a History of the Cult of Mayonnaise (And Some Hat-Fetishism)

THE NEXT TIME he saw Pléiade Lafrisée was at a café-restaurant off the Place d’Armes. It would not occur to him until much later to wonder if she had arranged the encounter. She was in pale violet peau de soie, and a hat so beguiling that Kit was only momentarily surprised to find himself with an erection. It was still early in the study of these matters, only a few brave pioneers like the Baron von Krafft-Ebing had dared peep into the strange and weirdly twilit country of hat-fetishism—not that Kit noticed stuff like that ordinarily, but it happened actually to be a gray toque of draped velvet, trimmed with antique guipure, and a tall ostrich plume dyed the same shade of violet as her dress. . . .

“This? One finds them in every other midinette’s haunt, literally for sous.”

“Oh. I must’ve been staring. What happened to you the other night?”

“Come. You can buy me a Lambic.”

The place was like a museum of mayonnaise. This being just at the height of the culte de la mayonnaise then sweeping Belgium, oversize exhibits of the ovoöleaginous emulsion were to be encountered at every hand. Heaps of Mayonnaise Grenache, surrounded by plates of smoked turkey and tongue, glowed redly as if from within, while with less, if any, reference to actual food it might have been there to modify, mountains of Chantilly mayonnaise, swept upward in gravity-impervious peaks insubstantial as cloud, along with towering masses of green mayonnaise, basins of boiled mayonnaise, mayonnaise baked into soufflés, not to mention a number of not entirely successful mayonnaises, under some obscure attainder, or on occasion passing as something else, dominated every corner.

“How much do you know of La Mayonnaise?” she inquired.

He shrugged. “Maybe up to the part that goes ‘Aux armes, citoyens’—”

But she was frowning, earnest as he had seldom seen her. “La Mayonnaise,” Pléiade explained, “has its origins in the moral squalor of the court of Louis XV—here in Belgium the affinity should not be too surprising. The courts of Leopold and Louis are not that different except in time, and what is time? Both monumentally deluded men, maintaining their power through oppression of the innocent. One might usefully compare Cleo de Mérode and the marquise de Pompadour. Neuropathists would recognize in both kings a desire to construct a self-consistent world to live inside, which allows them to continue the great damage they are inflicting on the world the rest of us must live in.

“The sauce was invented as a new sensation for jaded palates at court by the duc de Richelieu, at first known as mahonnaise after Mahon, the chief port of Minorca, the scene of the due’s dubious ‘victory’ in 1756 over the illfated Admiral Byng. Basically Louis’s drug dealer and pimp, Richelieu, known for opium recipes to fit all occasions, is also credited with the introduction into France of the cantharides, or Spanish fly.” She gazed pointedly at Kit’s trousers. “What might this aphrodisiac have in common with the mayonnaise? That the beetles must be gathered and killed by exposing them to vinegar fumes suggests an emphasis on living or recently living creatures—the egg yolk perhaps regarded as a conscious entity—cooks will speak of whipping, beating, binding, penetration, submission, surrender. There is an undoubtedly Sadean aspect to the mayonnaise. No getting past that.”

Kit was a little confused by now. “It always struck me as kind of, I don’t know . . . bland?”

“Until you look within. Mustard, for example, mustard and cantharides, n’estce pas? Both arousing the blood. Blistering the skin. Mustard is the widelyknown key to resurrecting a failed mayonnaise, as is the cantharides to reviving broken desire.”

“You’ve been thinking about mayonnaise a lot, mademoiselle.”

“Meet me tonight,” a sudden fierce whisper, “out at the Mayonnaise Works, and you shall perhaps understand things it is given only to a few to know. There will be a carriage waiting.” She pressed his hand and was gone in a mist of vetiver, abruptly as the other evening.

Another citation from Thomas Pynchon’s novel Against the Day; I don’t think you need any context to appreciate this passage.

 

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2 comments

  1. randomkhaos · July 13, 2013

    Well, I see you got your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat
    Yes, I see you got your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat
    Well, you must tell me, baby
    How your head feels under somethin’ like that
    Under your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat

    Well, you look so pretty in it
    Honey, can I jump on it sometime?
    Yes, I just wanna see
    If it’s really that expensive kind
    You know it balances on your head
    Just like a mattress balances
    On a bottle of wine
    Your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat

    Well, if you wanna see the sun rise
    Honey, I know where
    We’ll go out and see it sometime
    We’ll both just sit there and stare
    Me with my belt
    [ From: http://www.metrolyrics.com/leopard-skin-pill-box-hat-lyrics-bob-dylan.html ]
    Wrapped around my head
    And you just sittin’ there
    In your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat

    Well, I asked the doctor if I could see you
    It’s bad for your health, he said
    Yes, I disobeyed his orders
    I came to see you
    But I found him there instead
    You know, I don’t mind him cheatin’ on me
    But I sure wish he’d take that off his head
    Your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat

    Well, I see you got a new boyfriend
    You know, I never seen him before
    Well, I saw him
    Makin’ love to you
    You forgot to close the garage door
    You might think he loves you for your money
    But I know what he really loves you for
    It’s your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat

    Like

  2. Pingback: Food Links, 24.07.2013 | Tangerine and Cinnamon

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